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The Scariest Part: Naseem Jamnia Talks About THE BRUISING OF QILWA

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Naseem Jamnia, whose debut novella is The Bruising of QilwaHere is the publisher’s description:

In this intricate debut fantasy introducing a queernormative Persian-inspired world, a nonbinary refugee practitioner of blood magic discovers a strange disease that causes political rifts in their new homeland. Persian-American author Naseem Jamnia has crafted a gripping narrative with a moving, nuanced exploration of immigration, gender, healing, and family. Powerful and fascinating, The Bruising of Qilwa is the newest arrival in the era of fantasy classics such as the Broken Earth Trilogy, The Four Profound Weaves, and Who Fears Death.

Firuz-e Jafari is fortunate enough to have immigrated to the Free Democratic City-State of Qilwa, fleeing the slaughter of other traditional Sassanian blood magic practitioners in their homeland. Despite the status of refugees in their new home, Firuz has a good job at a free healing clinic in Qilwa, working with Kofi, a kindly new employer, and mentoring Afsoneh, a troubled orphan refugee with powerful magic.

But Firuz and Kofi have discovered a terrible new disease which leaves mysterious bruises on its victims. The illness is spreading quickly through Qilwa, and there are dangerous accusations of ineptly performed blood magic. In order to survive, Firuz must break a deadly cycle of prejudice, untangle sociopolitical constraints, and find a fresh start for their both their blood and found family.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Naseem Jamnia:

I originally wanted to use this opportunity to talk about the body horror in The Bruising of Qilwa. For this fantasy novella, I leaned on body horror — on its relationship to transness, on the food metaphors, on using my scientific background to make some gross decisions — to darken the slice-of-life aspects of the story. But the reality is, no matter how much I enjoy writing body horror, the scariest part of Qilwa is how much of our real world it reflects.

Qilwa follows a nonbinary refugee healer fleeing a genocide, who arrives to the newly independent city-state of Qilwa during a plague. Faced with both migrant and public health crises — and blaming the latter on the former — Qilwa tries to shut its gates. Then, the government cracks down on the clinics around the city providing free healthcare, restricting access for not only to the migrants but poor Qilwans as well.

Sound familiar?

I don’t mean to be on-the-nose with my secondary world. Indeed, issues of migration and healthcare were not in my thoughts when I originally sat to write The Bruising of Qilwa; learning to write a short story was. The larger world is one I’ve been playing in for a while, so it made sense as a backdrop for stretching my creative parameters. But very quickly, Qilwa took on a life of its own — one that reflects our world far more than I meant it to.

I started writing Qilwa before COVID. The story begins during a plague but quickly gives way to a new and potentially more sinister disease. While this second disease, the main focus of the novella, is perhaps not as deadly as the first, it is as alarming, if not more, to the main character.

And now, monkeypox is spreading through the US.

In her introduction to the Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2018, N.K. Jemisin discusses speculative fiction’s revolutionary potential. She explains how speculative fiction can help us imagine worlds better than our own. This philosophy is central to my work, which is why I created Qilwa’s queernormative, SWANA-inspired world. Yet, in my desire to understand and deconstruct my own relationship with my Persian heritage (the subject of my author’s afterword), I did choose to reproduce the mistreatment of migrants.

I started writing Qilwa before Ukraine, but migrants have long been maligned (especially Black and brown migrants). The migrants in the book, fleeing a genocide, face many of the same conditions that they would in our world: squalid living situations, worse health outcomes, dangerous jobs, decreased access to healthcare and education. It is impossible to divorce this phenomenon in our world from its larger context of white supremacy and hegemonic whiteness, colonialism and neocolonialism. While in the world of Qilwa there isn’t whiteness or white people, there is a history of imperialism at the root of the conflict.

But even though I can trace the creation of the situation in Qilwa, it unsettles me that I internalized many of our world’s problems enough to reproduce them subconsciously. How can I work toward a better reality if I’m not able to imagine one? I can only hope that this scariest thing is not the end of the sentence, but only the beginning of a new one.

The Bruising of Qilwa: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / Bookshop / IndieBound

Naseem Jamnia: Website / Twitter / Instagram

Naseem Jamnia is a Persian-Chicagoan, former scientist, and the author of The Bruising of Qilwa. Their work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Rumpus, The Writer’s Chronicle, Cosmopolitan, and other venues, and they’ve received fellowships from Lambda Literary, Otherwise, and Bitch Media. The inaugural Samuel R. Delany fellow, Naseem lives in Reno with their husband, dog, and two cats.

The Scariest Part: Gwendolyn N. Nix Talks About I HAVE ASKED TO BE WHERE NO STORMS COME

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Gwendolyn N. Nix, whose latest novel is I Have Asked To Be Where No Storms ComeHere is the publisher’s description:

The facts of Domino Bluepoint’s afterlife are simple: he’s a half-breed witch from a people without a name, and no one wants to be stuck in Hell with witch blood. When a demon bounty-hunter comes calling, Domino pairs up with his mother, who died too young and carries the witch lineage in her veins, to survive. Soon the two of them are Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid running from whatever torture awaits them and whoever wants to harvest their magic. Yet, Domino doesn’t know that his brother, Wicasah, is behind this and is desperate to resurrect Domino out of long-lasting guilt and a sensation of belonging to no place and no one.

As Wicasah dives deeper into darker magic that ends in an ill-made deal, Domino must overcome addiction, depression, and hone his own brand of witch-magic to help save his brother — and the world — from an ancient god of lighting and thunder.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Gwendolyn N. Nix:

If you’re a magpie creator… don’t be.

“Come again?” you might ask.

What I mean to say is this: are you a creator who thrives on experience? Who has a cache of conversation snippets that are remembered like dialogue, song lyrics and oral stories that make you shiver, books that make your heart sing, and direct experiences emblazoned in your brain? Are you someone who lets these pieces of shiny rest in your creative nest, primed for when the perfect inspiration hits you like a train?

If you are, take note. Blowing the dust off these pieces of shiny can be the scariest part of the creative process.

When I started writing I Have Asked To Be Where No Storms Come, my expansive magpie nest had a mountain of shinies all labeled “Inspiration About Home” all ready to go. It was a collection of decades, with a foundation going all the way back to when I was a young girl. The top of this mountain had a group of new pretties, collected during my explorations of the West and while revisiting old stomping grounds. When I stood before this mountain, I knew I was on a quest to discover the magic and beauty of the American West, the sorcery housed in the mountains, the creatures slumbering in the lakes, and the ancient gods racing across the plains. I was not daunted by this mountain of creativity. I was eager to brush off the dust and create something marvelous.

However, as I sat with my collection curated over the years, and the words poured out onto the page like a rushing waterfall, a sense of deep uncertainty overwhelmed me. I had shinies describing Lakota, Hopi, and Blackfeet lore. I had shinies of historical events. I had names of beloved places that I didn’t know the direct origin of, but were linked with tales of which I was unsure if they were actual myths or something I’d made up. I had experiences of romping around Glacier National Park and hearing someone tell me that the line of the mountains made a spine of a deadly ancient being. I had a memory of going to the Badlands National Park and hearing a story about the fossils being magical and dinosaurs being more than giant creatures that roamed the earth. As these shinies continued being funneled through my creative muse – crushing them from the mist of memory into hard diamonds of words, images and god forbid, plot and character arc — I was struck by a terrible, awful fear.

Did I have the right to use these stories for my own?

It didn’t feel right. So, how should I go about tracking down the origins of these shinies? Could I even justify speaking about these shinies? Could I apply my personal experiences to these shinies? Would my approach negatively enhance a history of terrible power dynamics that are embedded in the American West? Would I just be perpetuating cliches? And, since I clearly knew the story was going to be a dark fantasy western horror, did that make things even worse?

I was suddenly swimming in deep, dark waters where my knowledge and education seemed too shallow to continue. I started to doubt the veracity of my own creative process — something terrifying for a writer! With deep regret and fear, I benched the story for years, pondering how I could ever navigate these issues effectively, and yet still put my own heart and soul into the story. And, after a long time learning and listening, I finally felt I could tread water. I pulled the story out and faced the scariest part.

I didn’t have to give up. But, I also didn’t have to directly use the myths and stories that weren’t mine to tell. I took the newest of my magpie shinies — this personal journey writing this novel — and put those feelings of frustration, fear, enlightenment, and understanding into the characters, setting…and one really bad villain. The shinies that had originally influenced and inspired me became part of the story, but in an intended honorable way, placed to be a shiny for readers to pick up and learn more. By facing this scariest part, it helped me create a far more nuanced approach to writing about my home while still acknowledging the history within it, a tactic I felt produced a tale deeper and more meaningful than anything I set out to create in the beginning.

I Have Asked To Be Where No Storms Come: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / Bookshop / Crystal Lake Publishing

Gwendolyn N. Nix: Website / Twitter / Instagram

Gwendolyn N. Nix is a professional editor with Aconyte Books and author, penning the Celestial Scripts series (The Falling Dawn and Seams of Shadow), Sharks of the Wasteland (Cataclysm Cycle), and her new release, I Have Asked To Be Where No Storms Come from Crystal Lake Publishing. She is also the editor of the Marvel Xavier’s Institute: School of X anthology. A member of SFWA and Horror Writer’s Association, her short fiction has appeared in a variety of anthologies, such as Pileaus Symphony No. 1, Where the Veil Is Thin, and Apex: Worlds of Dinosaurs. She lives in Montana with her partner, young son, and wild gray Labrador.

The Scariest Part: Dani Pettrey Talks About THE DEADLY SHALLOWS

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Dani Pettrey, whose latest novel is The Deadly ShallowsHere is the publisher’s description:




CGIS Agent Noah Rowley is rocked to the core when several of his valued team members come under fire on his Coast Guard base. He and his remaining team race to the scene and end the attack, but not before innocent lives are lost. Furious and grief-stricken, he vows to do whatever is needed to bring the mastermind behind the attack to justice.

Stunned by the ambush, Coast Guard flight medic Brooke Kesler evacuates in a helicopter carrying the only surviving gunman. The gravely wounded man whispers mysterious information to Brooke that immediately paints a target on her back.

As Brooke and Noah race to uncover answers, emotions between them ignite. Noah struggles to protect Brooke at all costs and to conceal the secret that prevents him from becoming what he longs to be — the right man for her.

Everything is at stake as a horrifying truth emerges… The attack wasn’t the end game. It was only the beginning.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Dani Pettrey:

Coming up with the scariest part of The Deadly Shallows was easy. It was the torture scene. Even though I end the scene before the torture officially begins and I don’t pick up until after it’s concluded, what occurred is revealed throughout the story and as the author, I knew what Brooke went through. It was scary to go there — to envision and “feel” my heroine’s desperate fear in those moments. The terror of being at someone’s mercy when he possesses none. Then taken to a desolate place to be killed before she’s had a chance to truly live the life she desires. Knowing within minutes her life will be snuffed out.

She manages to escape but is hunted like a wild animal through the shallows and woods of southern North Carolina. I could feel her heart racing, sweat clinging to her skin, her clothes soaked from her initial escape into the water. The chill of the December wind rippling up her arms. My heart races in turn, goosebumps rippling up my arms, my breath grows shallow as Brooke struggles for air.

Longing for freedom, terror consumes her at the realization it may never come. She may die cold and alone in the woods, her body no doubt buried by the swampy shallows. The fear of such a death creeps up my spine, my chest tightens as I pen the words.

Brooke runs faster, stumbling through the woods, her legs wobbling beneath her, her torture wounds throbbing and burning. Her left eye is so swollen she can barely see, making the dead leaves crunching beneath her feet and clinging to the tree’s barren limbs, distorted. Every sound of an animal makes her jerk.

The noise of a car’s engine roars at the top of the steep slope. Freedom. It’s so close but the men’s footfalls pound hard behind her. Her terror grips my chest at the thought alone of enduring what Brooke did — being taken captive and forced to an extreme of physical and mental anguish she never thought she could survive. Those fears radiate in my mind. With each click of the keyboard, my muscles tense, a visceral reaction I’d never experienced while writing rakes through me.

Thankfully, Brooke makes it up the hill to freedom and safety, but she’s forever changed by what she endured. Hitting a new emotional depth in my writing I’d never experienced or ever anticipated happening, rattled me. I, too, feel changed. Living in my character’s thoughts, fears and emotions tapped into fears I didn’t know I had until I wrote the scariest part of my story.

The Deadly Shallows: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / Bookshop

Dani Pettrey: Website / Facebook / Instagram / BookBub

Publishers Weekly and #1 Amazon bestselling author, Dani Pettrey has sold nearly 800,000 copies of her novels to readers eagerly awaiting the next release. Dani combines the page-turning adrenaline of a thriller with the chemistry and happy-ever-after of a romance. Her novels stand out for their “wicked pace, snappy dialogue, and likable characters” (Publishers Weekly), “gripping storyline[s],” (RT Book Reviews), and “sizzling undercurrent of romance” (USA Today). She researches murder and mayhem from her home in Maryland.

The Scariest Part: Richard Dansky Talks About GHOST OF A MARRIAGE

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is my good friend of many years Richard Dansky, whose latest book is the deeply personal haunted-house novel Ghost of a MarriageHere is the book’s description:

There’s something in Gary’s house that doesn’t want him there.

Ever since his marriage fell apart, he’s been seeing things, things that everyone keeps on telling him aren’t there.

But Gary’s not just seeing things, and soon it’s more than his peace of mind that’s at stake—it’s his life.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Richard Dansky:

The scariest part of Ghost of a Marriage was the first word.

It had been roughly three and a half years since my wife had left me before I sat down to write the book, and in that time I’d barely written an original word. I mean, I’d written — written for video games, written for tabletop RPGs, even written some tie-in fiction — but for three years I’d been unable to churn out a single original piece. In the months preceding sitting down to write the novel, I’d managed to squeeze out a single, very short story, but that was it, and I was really questioning my future as a writer.

So I decided to confront the elephant in the room. I would attempt to write a novel drawing on my recent experience, on the heartbreak I’d felt, and see what supernatural elements I could weave into that.

And then I sat there for weeks before I was able to start. I knew that I wanted to write about a disintegrating marriage, about the effects when one partner is ready to move on and the other isn’t. I knew that it would be a ghost story, for what are ghosts but memories, and I was still living in mine far too much at the time. And I knew that my protagonists was in for a rough time, but I was prepared for that. This wasn’t going to be a stroll in the park for me, so why should he get off easy?

As a result, I forced myself to dive back into the emotions I’d experienced at the time. Three and a half years is a long time, plenty of time for emotional scar tissue to build up. Plenty of time for people to move on, in many cases, but there I was, trapped in the amber of my feelings, and the only way to break free would be to live it all again as I wrote the book.

Which left me sifting through my memories for the moments of particular vibrancy, of particular pain. Soft-pedaling things wasn’t going to lead anywhere. Taking it easy wouldn’t lead to creative catharsis. I needed to probe at the heart of things, tear away the scars and poke at the tender, unhealed feelings underneath.

That was when I remembered the moment that, in its own way, had hurt the most. Not the request for a divorce, not the farewell, but a simple bit of a day that in its own way had dug deep. I’d been writing in my office, working feverishly on the tie-in novel I was writing for the Ghost Recon video game, when I heard a sound coming from the bedroom. It was a grotesque noise, ripping and tearing and moaning all at once, and I went to see what it was.

It was shrink wrap, and my ex-wife was neatly wrapping up a pile of her belongings. She looked at me, I looked away and retreated to my office, and the noise started again. If I’d been smart, I would have vacated the house until she was done. But I wasn’t smart, and I thought I was stronger than I was, and so I sat there and typed a few words while listening to the plastic dying screams of my marriage from down the hall.

That was it. That moment, that sound, that feeling of helplessness — that was the key I needed. And so I wrote the first words of Ghost of a Marriage: “Heartbreak is the sound of shrink wrap coming from your bedroom.”

I won’t say the rest of it was easy. I dug deep on a lot of feelings and came to a lot of realizations, not all of them terribly complimentary to me, as I wrote the book. I got stuck 45K words in and had to put it down for a month while my subconscious scrambled for a way to get me out of the corner I’d written myself into. I had to keep going back to that well, to that awful sound and everything it meant, and eventually I emerged with a complete manuscript.

But I won’t lie. Facing that blank page and all of its implications was terrifying. That I was finally able to confront and transcend it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a writer, and it scared the hell out of me while I was attempting to do it.

Ghost of a Marriage: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powells / Bookshop

Richard Dansky: Website / Twitter

Richard Dansky is a twenty-plus year veteran of the video game industry who has written for franchises including The Division, Splinter Cell, Outland and more. A passionate advocate for the craft of game writing, he is an advisor to the Game Narrative Summit at Game Developers’ Conference and curates the narrative at East Coast Game Conference. On the fiction side, he is the author of eight novels and one short fiction collection. In addition to video games, he made extensive contributions to White Wolf’s seminal World of Darkness roleplaying setting, most recently Wraith: The Oblivion 20th Anniversary Edition. Richard lives in North Carolina with an extensive collection of single malt scotches and a cat named Goblin, whom he swears was named that when he got her.